Crist calls on Gov. DeSantis to confront state’s role in Capitol riots

He spoke publicly with five local leaders in downtown St. Petersburg on Friday morning.
Gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, pictured during a roundtable discussion at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in West Palm Beach, Thursday, June 10, 2021.
Gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, pictured during a roundtable discussion at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in West Palm Beach, Thursday, June 10, 2021. [ DAMON HIGGINS, DAMON HIGGINS/THE PALM BEACH POS | Palm Beach Post ]
Published June 18, 2021|Updated June 22, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG — Gubernatorial hopeful and Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist called on Friday for Gov. Ron DeSantis to investigate Florida’s ties to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, saying he’s concerned by the number of Floridians arrested in relation to the insurrection.

“This is about protecting our communities from extremists,” Crist said at a press conference held across the street from the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg. “And with the stroke of a pen, Gov. DeSantis, you can help.”

Flanked by five local elected officials and community leaders, Crist, who is running for governor in 2022, called for DeSantis to sign an executive order to launch an independent commission to investigate Florida’s ties to the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

There are 47 Florida residents facing charges related to the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, according to a recent analysis by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. That’s the most of any state, tied with Texas.

Florida also has more arrests of members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers — two far-right extremist groups — than any other state, according to the Herald-Tribune.

Crist, in his third term representing Florida’s 13th Congressional District in Washington D.C., said most Floridians are “kind, decent people ... but this is one national list that I’m ashamed Florida is leading.”

“We need to know why that is,” he said. “And we need to know what to do to keep our state and our democracy safe from violent extremists.”

Rabbi Michael Torop from Temple Beth-El in St. Petersburg, told attendees Friday that hate and racist incidents are “growing like a cancer” across the country. He referenced an increase in antisemitic incidents across the country.

“We still need action by our governor to assure us that violence by Floridians should never be allowed to threaten our democracy,” Torop said.

St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Ken Welch called the impact of the Jan. 6 mob “devastating,” but said the “relative silence” from elected officials was even more threatening. He said the response to the Jan. 6 insurrection will define the concept of American justice to the country and the world.

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren, a Democrat, said an investigation like the one proposed by Crist was a public safety priority.

“Was the attack on the Capitol random and spontaneous, or was it coordinated and organized? Did the people just hear about some rally on Facebook and buy a ticket to D.C., or are they part of larger organizations, connected with hate groups — racist, xenophobic, treasonist — that may be plotting plans for the future?” he said.

DeSantis on Thursday declined to answer a question on if he thinks the 2020 election was rigged — a baseless theory that experts say fueled the Jan. 6 riot.

In an emailed statement to the Tampa Bay Times Friday evening, the governor’s press secretary, Christina Pushaw, dismissed Crist’s call for an investigation as “raw political opportunism.”

“It is tailor-made for left-wing corporate media, not for everyday Floridians,” read the emailed statement. “Moreover, Crist’s framing blames more than 20 million Floridians for the actions of a few, and that is simply unfair — and unserious.”

Crist, who previously served as governor as a Republican and who announced in May his plans to run again for the seat, said he wanted his political rival to answer more questions about the 2020 election and the Capitol riot.

Related: Charlie Crist declares another run for Florida governor

“The governor needs to answer the following questions: Do you acknowledge that Joe Biden is our duly elected president? Do you agree that the violent assault on our nation’s Capitol was the very definition of an insurrection itself?” he said Friday morning. “And finally, governor, do you support an independent, non-partisan commission to investigate that insurrection? We need answers from our state’s chief executive on these questions.”

Correction: The press conference was held across the street from the Florida Holocaust Museum. An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect location.